British Raj in India Part 1 of 2
If you live anywhere close to London, England or are visiting, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a fantastic Maharaja exhibition: The Splendor of Indian Royal Courts on right now until January 17, 2010. It will then go to Munich, Germany from February to May. Why am I so enthusiastic? If you are talking about royal splendor, unimaginable wealth and oodles of gemstones and jewelry, you cannot beat the Maharajas and their courts in their heyday.

Procession of Ram Singh II of Kota c.1850 watercolor

Maharaja means "great king" in Sanskrit. The rulers were also known by other titles like Raja, Nizam and Nawab. The exhibition is the first to comprehensively cover their rich culture, heritage and power through bejeweled objects, other treasures and artwork.

The Maharajas ruled from the 18th century onwards to when India gained its independence from Britain in 1947. During the British Raj, the British directly controlled about two thirds of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh leaving nominal rule of the remaining princely states to the Maharajas. There was however considerable British influence and sometimes interference via appointed British Residents to the courts.

The V and A exhibition displays over 250 magnificent and rare objects. Many are on loan from present day Maharajas.

One spectacular exhibit is the ceremonial multi-tiered Patiala necklace from the Cartier collection, originally designed in 1928 for the Maharaja of Patiala - his son is shown wearing it on the left, circa 1941. It was one of Cartier's largest commissions. The necklace comprised of 2930 platinum set diamonds and with the yellow De Beers diamond (the 7th largest) as the focal.

The necklace has had an interesting history. It was broken up and sold at one point. The remnant was rediscovered in 1998 by a Cartier representative. However, the largest stones were missing. Cartier managed to buy the De Beers diamond for $3.16 million when it came up at auction and reconstructed this historic piece with other synthetic gems. Cartier estimates the original necklace would have cost $20-30 million today.

Since so many of us cannot go, here are glimpses of their bygone world starting with the V and A's preview video of the exhibition that made me go wow! One of the most impressive is the bejeweled Hindu gods treasure which show rubies cleverly used to form parts of the body including carved faces.

Another really splendid V and A video is the  rarely seen footage of royal ceremonies - the 1932 marriage of the Maharaja of Japipur to Princess Kishore Kanwar, niece of the Maharaja of Marwar. The second part is the Golden Jubilee celebration of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurtha in 1928.

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